VERONICE MILES. Embodied Hope: A Homiletical Theology Reflection. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021. Pp. 225. $32.00 (U.S.)
Veronice Miles’ recently published Embodied Hope delivers precisely what its subtitle claims—A Homiletical Theology Reflection. Neither a text on sermon methodology nor a comprehensive theology of the preaching task, this deep reflection instead examines how these two interact with praxiological, real world implications. Miles initially immerses the reader in her own struggle to preach a word of hope to a church hungry for a counternarrative to the seemingly continuous murders of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. Seeking deeper effectiveness in this task, she explores the mechanisms through which hope is communicated and enacted. Miles contrasts what she names “the deceptive language of despair” (34) with “the anticipatory language of Hope” (110). By giving Hope the capital initial, she demonstrates it to be more than a wishful concept. In fact, Hope for Miles is nothing less than “the embodied presence of God’s Spirit” (12). Following her exposition on the power of language to shape imagination and Hope-filled change, she demonstrates the titular embodiment metaphor through the practice of preaching by examining both excerpts of her own sermons and the rhetorical skill of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Reading Embodied Hope is a performative task, creating space for experiencing the Hope that is its subject. The book’s strength appears in Miles’ respectful treatment of the preacher’s role as theologian-in-residence. She writes with a sense of urgency, for what we say both inside and outside of the preaching task carries real world implications. The preacher’s words either inspire or diminish the hearers’ capacity for taking Hope-filled action, impacting the Church’s proleptic realization of Jesus’ message of the kin(g)dom* of God. Within Miles’s treatment of Jesus’ kin(g)dom metaphor, however, she exhibits an all-too-common error of Christian theology. She portrays Jesus’s preaching on repentance as a call to embrace a “radically new” understanding of loving God and neighbor (121, 124), overlooking his own Jewish context in which teshuvah, both then and now, precisely calls for a return to these ethical foci. Jesus’s message was not new, though his full embodiment of it was.
Miles’s style is expository. She offers abundant justification of her positions through scriptural, theological, historical, and sociological evidence. At times this depth of exploration detracts from the narrative flow of her argument. Still, she builds on the work of others who have laid a theological foundation for hope. By discussing the concept of Hope as a metaphor whose power lies in our treatment of language, Miles propels the conversation into the homiletical arena. In this way, she meets her own goal of “contribut[ing] to a growing interdisciplinary conversation about the necessity of Hope . . . particularly . . . in the power and potential of preaching” (4-5). She makes clear that Hope is proleptic to the degree that Christians live it out praxiologically. She is less effective, though, in describing those practices that would convey embodied Hope. The introduction awakens the reader’s high expectation for gaining tools for Hope-evoking proclamation. Though Miles eventually gives some homiletical guidance, it does not fully satisfy what she has stated as her goal.
The Brethren in Christ audience will find points of connection in Embodied Hope, particularly through the author’s deep exploration of Jesus’s metaphor of the kin(g)dom of God. In Jesus’s preaching, the kin(g)dom envisages an age of shalom, the type of peace-filled kinship community that is foundational to Anabaptist discipleship. Thinking homiletically, she ponders whether the Church will act as “faithful witnesses today who still uphold Jesus’s love ethic as the church’s central proclamation and as the normative expression of the faith” (109). Miles stirs within the reader the desire to answer affirmatively, “to say yes to God’s yes for creation” (218).
Embodied Hope’s detailed expositions of scripture, Christian theological history, and sociopolitical struggles of Black American experience lend the book best to an audience interested in exploring Hope as the ethos of a liberation theology. In that regard, it may have most applicability as a theological conversation partner to psychosocial texts regarding personal and systemic change. For the every-Sunday preacher wanting to improve their craft, though, this text falls short. Those looking for a “how-to” guide for eliciting Hope through the practice of preaching will come away without sufficient tools for the task. However, pastors may benefit from engaging parts of the text deeply, particularly the introductory framework (1-32) and Chapter 5 (136-71) vis-à-vis Appendix A (223-5). Those who know what to expect from this text will find much to appreciate in the “embodied hope” that Miles creates for her readers.
*Miles’ spelling of Jesus’s Kingdom language